I have been going through a period of deep spiritual struggle. It has been the kind of struggle that bears much fruit. These struggles are deepening my faith and teaching me to rely on Christ’s will for me, rather than my own will. My eyes have been truly opened to different aspects of Christ’s betrayal and the Cross. Today revealed to me just how much God’s grace is working in me. The only source of my understanding is Him.
Today is the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. It is a deeply difficult day for thousands of people personally, and a day of mourning and remembrance as a nation. The last 13 years of my life have been shaped by my 9-11 experiences. Three years after my relief work, I suffered through a few years of debilitating PTSD. After absolutely stellar treatment from some of the world’s top EMDR and PTSD specialists, I have been able to live with those memories. I live with next to no PTSD symptoms, from that period in my life. One aspect was still in need of healing and that was a spiritual dimension.
As Christians, we are called to pray for our enemies. As Catholics, that includes the dead. I have never been able to bring myself to pray for the 19 hijackers, until today. At 9:37am this morning, at the exact same time Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people, I started to pray a Rosary before holy relics of Our Lord’s Cross (yes, the actual Cross of Jesus). As I started my Rosary, I began to list my petitions: the families of the killed, those killed, the relief workers, etc. Then I got the thought to pray for the terrorists’ souls. At first, I could not utter the words. I began to sob in utter agony. I fell onto all fours and sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes. I had the sense (eye of faith) that my Guardian Angel was there comforting me. The Agony in the Garden came to mind. I finally got back up on my knees and through my sobs, prayed for the souls of the terrorists and those who terrorize today. It was the hardest Rosary I have ever prayed in my life. I sobbed and shook throughout it, but I knew Our Lord and Our Lady were with me. When I finished, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. The sobbing stopped and peace set in.
Some of you will read this and respond in anger. Some of you will not understand praying for the souls of the dead, especially those who chose evil. Catholics, unlike a lot of other Christian denominations, pray for the dead constantly. But, some of you will understand why this is significant, and why it is necessary. I had to walk into the Garden and cry out in agony. I chose courage. I walked towards the Cross. Something that I have avoided for well over a decade. I knew those prayers would be hard. It is only by God’s grace that I was able to utter them. To release my own anger at those 19 men, who murdered so many, and left me in the throngs of PTSD 10 years ago. This was God’s doing. In choosing to let go, He was able to heal my hurt. It is hard, but in confronting deep pain, with God as our guide, we are set free.
What agony do you need to confront? Let God heal you.
9-11 means a lot of different things to people. Everyone has a story of where they were on that day. I just happen to be one of those people who spent 45 days smack dab in the middle of the pain, agony, and destruction of 9-11. On 9-11 I was stationed at a large intel base. We were considered a top 10 target and a mass evacuation of non-military personnel started right after the Pentagon was hit. I don’t remember much because it was so chaotic and terrifying. What I do remember is my friend was 8.5 months pregnant with her first child, and her then husband worked at the Pentagon. The phones were jammed, so we waited until early evening before we knew that he was safe, having hiked up I-395 to get a ride back to our base. I stayed with her all day to make sure that she was ok. We huddled inside the Marine barracks, terrified of every jet engine we heard over head. Our base was in the BWI flight path. I remember a blazing sun against a crystal blue sky. I remember people running frantically. I remember armed Marines running with M-16s to secure our base. I remember bracing for impact and being sure that death was coming. I had never been that terrified in my entire life. I don’t think anything else has matched it since (other than when the PTSD was rally bad 10 years ago). Thank God!
Once the initial attacks cleared, my reaction was that I needed to help. I lived a few miles from DC. I needed to do what I could to help those in need. Rather unexpectedly, a friend of mine, with a similar drive, said that she was being sent by our base to serve the families of those killed at the Pentagon. I said that I was going with her, and so 8 of us from my base went to the Pentagon Family Assistance Center to serve the surviving families. The Navy lost more people than any other branch or Agency, and they wanted us there in uniform in case the families wanted a Sailor to talk to and also to serve them in any capacity necessary.
The first few days were agony. I witnessed the deepest in human suffering. My 20 year old heart and mind, was not prepared for this level of pain. My faith was still young and weak, and it was not my primary rock throughout that period. I had to fight my own tears, in the face of hurting, mourning people. A few days after the attack, I stood in front of the crash site with over 400 mourning relatives. I knew that I was staring into the abyss of Hell. Only Hell could bring such destruction and barbarity.
While 9-11 will haunt me for the rest of my life, I did witness the strength of the human spirit. The first couple of weeks were devastating. The wounds were deep and fresh. Families waited helplessly for news of their loved ones. No one survived the attack, and all 184 perished. When bodies started to be returned to families (what was left of their loved one), families had a sense of relief. Over 40 bodies were never recovered. Once this phase began, I noticed a shift to healing. The pain was deep, but there was the very beginning of hope and healing. By the end of my 45 days as a relief worker, the families had returned home to begin to re-build their lives.
9-11 is a defining moment in my life, because, unlike the majority of the world, I was actually a part of the event. I was there in all its horror. This day has meant many things for me: pain, agony, suffering, tears, mourning, nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, hope, love, courage. Today it means: prayer. These people who perpetuate this type of evil are still murdering thousands of people throughout the world. The leaders of the West are impotent in the face of this evil, quite frankly, because in their nihilism they do not know good from evil, or evil from good. So I wage the spiritual battle and I pray, fast, and give alms. That is how I best serve the memories of those I met and their loved ones. It is how I best served those being persecuted abroad. It is how I best serve the persecutors. So PRAY and pray hard, for the conversion of souls, for those murdered today (and every other day), the families, and the relief workers.
And, yes, because my 9-11 experiences make me feel a deep connection to the persecuted, check out Help Nasara to give alms. We are trying to serve the suffering. God bless you always.
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